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What is breast swelling?

Breast swelling and tenderness is common in almost all women in the second half of their menstrual cycle. The swelling and tenderness of the breasts in the premenstrual portion of your cycle can range from mild to severe.

The milk ducts in your breasts are enlarged by increased estrogen production at certain points in your menstrual cycle. Estrogen production generally peaks just before the middle of your cycle. The lobes of the breasts, the milk glands, are stimulated to grow by an increase in progesterone, which reaches its peak around day 21 of a 28-day cycle.

During this time, you may have intermittent or persistent breast fullness along with tenderness and pain. The feel of the breast tissue can also change. Some women may feel that their breasts are dense and rough to the touch.

During pregnancy, the swelling and tenderness of the breasts can be more pronounced. Women who take birth control pills report that their symptoms are milder. Other conditions that can cause breast swelling include benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions such as papillomas and atypical hyperplasia (abnormal proliferation of cells), duct ectasia (widening of the milk ducts), fat necrosis (damage to the fatty tissue of the breasts), fibrocystic changes and infection of the breasts (mastitis or abscess). Breast swelling rarely occurs with a more serious condition like breast cancer.

Seek immediate medical attention if the swelling and tenderness of your breasts is persistent or causes you concern, or is accompanied by nipple discharge or new or changing lumps in any of your breasts.

What other symptoms can occur with breast swelling?

Swelling and tenderness of the breasts may indicate a non-cancerous breast condition. Other symptoms will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder, or condition.

Symptoms of breast swelling that can occur in conjunction with benign processes

Breast swelling may accompany the presence of benign breast tumors, such as papillomas and fibroadenomas, along with other symptoms including:

  • Deformity or deformation of the sinus
  • Breast tumor
  • Chest pain
  • Nipple discharge or sensitivity

Symptoms of breast swelling that can occur in conjunction with sinus infection

Breast swelling and tenderness may accompany the presence of a sinus infection (mastitis or abscess) along with other symptoms, including:

  • Breast lump
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Rash or pain in the breast or nipple
  • Redness, warmth, or swelling
  • Sensitivity

Symptoms that could indicate a serious condition

In some cases, swelling and tenderness of the breasts can occur with other symptoms that could indicate a serious condition that must be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical attention (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have breast swelling and tenderness along with other serious symptoms, including:

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness even for a brief moment
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy

What causes breast swelling?

Breast swelling and tenderness is common in almost all women in the second half of their menstrual cycle. The swelling and tenderness of the breasts in the premenstrual portion of your cycle can range from mild to severe.

The milk ducts in the breast are enlarged by increased estrogen production during the menstrual cycle. Estrogen production generallyit reaches its peak just before the middle of its cycle. During this time, you may have intermittent or persistent fullness of the breasts along with tenderness and pain. During pregnancy, the swelling and tenderness of the breasts can be quite pronounced.

Daily causes of breast swelling

Daily causes of breast swelling include:

  • Estrogen drugs such as birth control pills
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Pregnancy

Benign causes of breast swelling

Breast swelling can also be caused by benign conditions, including:

  • Abscess
  • Benign tumors such as intraductal papillomas and fibroadenomas
  • Duct ectasia (widening of the milk ducts)
  • Fat necrosis (damage to the fatty tissue of the breast)
  • Fibrocystic changes
  • Mastitis

Serious or life-threatening causes of breast swelling

In some cases, swelling and tenderness of the breasts can occur with other symptoms that could indicate a serious condition. Potentially serious causes of breast swelling include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Generalized infection

Questions to diagnose the cause of breast swelling

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed healthcare professional will ask you several questions related to your breast swelling, including:

  • Are you pregnant?
  • When was your last menstrual period?
  • Does breast swelling occur with every menstrual cycle?
  • Have you felt any lump in your breasts?
  • Have you had any discharge from your nipples?
  • Are there any other associated symptoms?

What are the possible complications of breast swelling?

You may be able to decrease breast swelling and tenderness by reducing fat in your diet, avoiding caffeine, reducing your salt intake a couple of weeks before your period starts, and maintaining a daily exercise program. However, if the swelling and tenderness of your breasts are so severe that they restrict your ability to perform your daily activities, seek the help of a healthcare professional.

Once the underlying cause of breast swelling is diagnosed, it is important that you follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional designed specifically for you to reduce the risk of possible complications, including:

  • Absenteeism from work or school
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks
  • Inability to participate normally in activities
  • Inability to perform daily tasks
  • Malaise or severe pain
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